GCSEs 2021: Heads condemn autumn exams plan

School leaders warn that the autumn exam series for GCSEs and A levels 'creates more problems than it solves'

Catherine Lough

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Headteachers condemn autumn exams plan

Headteachers have condemned Ofqual's plans to run an autumn exam series for GCSE, AS- and A-level candidates this year as creating "more problems than it solves".

Today the exams regulator confirmed its plan that an autumn exam series would go ahead for all GCSE and A-level subjects, with any student who had received a teacher-assessed grade this summer able to take an exam later in the year. 


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Students will also be able to sit AS exams in the most commonly taken subjects. 

But a headteachers' union has questioned the plans, which it warns cannot "possibly" result in a level playing field.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Autumn exam series 'entirely unnecessary'

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The decision to run an autumn exam series owes more to public relations than it does to common sense.

“While running this series may seem like an extra safeguard for students who are unhappy with teacher-assessed grades this summer, it creates more problems than it solves."

He added that running an autumn exam series did not solve the problem of differential learning loss for this year's GCSE and A-level cohort, which was why exams were cancelled in the first place.

“The whole point of cancelling public exams this summer was because the pandemic has affected the learning of students to varying extents," Mr Barton said.

"This will still be the case in the autumn, and the idea of an exam series at that point in time is just as problematic as it would have been in the summer.

"It cannot possibly be a level playing field and those who were worst affected by the pandemic will still be at a disadvantage."

The ASCL also raised concerns over additional pressures placed on schools and teachers during an autumn series of exams.

“At the same time, schools and colleges will be full with current students and the decision to run an exam series puts more pressure on them in terms of the staffing, organisation and space that is necessary," Mr Barton said.

“Given that the process for awarding teacher-assessed grades this summer will involve the opportunity for students to appeal, an autumn exam series seems entirely unnecessary.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: "It is government policy that there should be an exam series this autumn. In the light of this, we consulted on how an autumn exam series should run and have now confirmed our decisions about this issue.

"There was clear support from those who responded to the consultation for any student who receives a teacher-assessed grade in summer 2021, or who would have entered the exams in summer 2021 had they not been cancelled, to be eligible to enter the corresponding autumn 2021 exams."

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Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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